Mrs. Nelson did not come with her. That excellent lady had concluded to bestow her talents upon a worthier object. In her place came Miss Merritt, a quiet little sister of Ruth’s mother, who proved to be to the curious public a pump without a handle.
About this time Sandy Kilday returned from his last term at the university, and gossip was busy over the burden of honors under which he staggered, and the brilliance of the position he had accepted in the city. In prompt contradiction of this came the shining new sign, “Hollis & Kilday,” which appeared over the judge’s dingy little office.
Nobody but Ruth knew what that sign had cost Sandy. He had come home, fresh from his triumphs, and burning with ambition to make his way in the world,—to make a name for her to share, and a record for her to be proud of. The opportunity that had been offered him was one in a lifetime. It had taken all his courage and strength and loyalty to refuse it, but Ruth had helped him.
“We must think of the judge first, Sandy,” she said. “While he lives we must stay here; there’ll be time enough for the big world after a while.”
So Sandy gave up his dream for the present and tacked the new sign over the office door with his own hand.
The old judge watched him from the pavement. “That’s right,” he said, rubbing his hands together with childish satisfaction; “that’s just about the best-looking sign I ever saw!”
“If you ever turn me down in court I’ll stand it on its head and make my own name come first,” threatened Sandy; and the judge repeated the joke to every one he saw that day.
It was not long until the flying rumors settled down into positive facts, and Clayton was thrilled to its willow-fringed circumference. There was to be a wedding! Not a Nelson wedding of the olden times, when a special car brought grand folk down from the city, and the townspeople stayed apart and eyed their fine clothes and gay behavior with ill-concealed disfavor. This was to be a Clayton wedding for high and low, rich and poor.
There was probably not a shutter opened in the town, on the morning of the great day, that some one did not smile with pleasure to find that the sun was shining.
Mrs. Hollis woke Sandy with the dawn, and insisted upon helping him pack his trunk before breakfast. For a week she had been absorbed in his nuptial outfit, jealously guarding his new clothes, to keep him from wearing them all before the wedding.
Aunt Melvy was half an hour late in arriving, for she had tarried at “Who’d ‘a’ Thought It” to perform the last mystic rites over a rabbit’s foot which was to be her gift to the groom.
The whole town was early astir and wore a holiday air. By noon business was virtually abandoned, for Clayton was getting ready to go to the wedding.
Willowvale extended a welcome to the world. The wide front gates stood open, the big-eyed poplars beamed above the oleanders and the myrtle, while the thrushes and the redwings twittered and caroled their greetings from on high. The big white house was open to the sunshine and the spring; flowers filled every nook and corner; even the rose-bush which grew outside the dining-room window sent a few venturesome roses over the sill to lend their fragrance to those within.